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Last Minute Fiscal Negotiations; Bloodiest Day Yet In Syria's Civil War; Most Memorable Moments of 2012

Aired December 30, 2012 - 06:00   ET


ALISON KOSIK, CNN ANCHOR: From CNN world headquarters in Atlanta, this is EARLY START WEEKEND.

And we are less than 48 hours till the day of reckoning. So what do you want to tell Congress about the fiscal cliff? We're going to have your video messages.

The woman accused of pushing a man in front of a subway is now being charged with a hate crime. Now she's saying why she did it.

Wow! A plane crash caught on tape. The story behind this dash cam video of the exact moment a jet slammed into an overpass.

It's Sunday, December 30th. Good morning. I'm Alison Kosik. Randi Kaye is off today.

And we're going to start this morning in Washington, where all eyes are on Capitol Hill as lawmakers try to work out and vote on a deal to avoid the fiscal cliff. The deadline is less than 48 hours away. As to whether they can get it done, the president says he's hopeful.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm modestly optimistic that an agreement can be achieved. Nobody's going to get 100 percent of what they want. But let's make sure that middle class families and the American economy and, in fact, the world economy aren't adversely impacted because people can't do their jobs.


KOSIK: Both houses of Congress are meeting in a rare Sunday session. The Senate convenes at 1:00. The House, an hour later at 2:00. Our chief White House correspondent Jessica Yellin now with a look at the chance for a deal and what's on the table.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Alison, here in Washington, there is still hope a deal can be cut in time to avert the fiscal cliff. On Saturday, the president was at work here in the White House, but all eyes were on the Senate, where negotiators were trading deal points and revenue figures to try to reach an agreement all sides can stomach. The baseline for the president, any bipartisan bill would have to extend unemployment insurance that would affect some 2 million Americans and increase taxes for the highest income earners. But negotiators can still work out exactly where that tax increase would hit and whether they would halt an increase in the estate tax.

In case those discussions break down, the president has asked Democratic Leader Harry Reid to prepare a separate bill to put on the floor of the Senate that would raise taxes on households that earn $250,000 or more. Now, that's really a Democratic proposal and you could expect Republicans to block it. So rather than thinking of that as a stop gap measure, you should probably think of it as a political measure to shift the responsibility for failure on to Republicans just before the nation hits the hour of reckoning.


KOSIK: Jessica, thanks.

Lawmakers could vote as early as today. And when it happens, you can watch live coverage right here on CNN.

The president will continue to plead his case for a deal today. He's making his first appearance on a Sunday talk show in more than three years. He'll be on NBC's "Meet the Press." Mr. Obama is expected to call for an immediately vote by Congress on a scale-back plan that would only extend middle class tax breaks and unemployment benefits if the congressional negotiations fail.

Other news now. Second degree murder as a hate crime. That's the charge facing Erika Menendez. She is the woman accused of shoving a man to his death in front of a subway train on Thursday. Police say Menendez told them she pushed the victim because, quote, "I hate Hindus and Muslims." Menendez says it's a feeling she's had since the September 11th attacks. It was the second time this month someone was pushed to death from a New York subway platform.

Two missing brothers had been found safe and their father is now in police custody. Police say Ben and Henry Cleary were found in Texas, 950 miles from their Atlanta area home, after a tipster saw their mother in an interview right here on CNN. The brothers were on a planned trip with their dad but did not return when expected. He's going to be charged with felony interference with custody.

A tragic scene in California where three people were killed in a small plane crash near San Diego. An FAA official says the plane crashed under unknown circumstances. It was heading to Phoenix. An investigation is underway.

To Massachusetts now where a snowstorm is pounding the state. Boston could see up to eight inches of snow today. The city's mayor has already declared a snow emergency. A top priority there is getting the roads cleared for public safety. Freezing temperatures are in the forecast there for this week.

And their neighbors to the south in Rhode Island, yes, they're also breaking out the shovels this morning. Look at this video. About a foot of snow has already fallen in some parts of the state.

It's the site of the worst oil spill in U.S. history. Now more than two years later, we're getting an up close look at the wreckage at the Deepwater Horizon rig. The U.S. Coast Guard released these images following a survey of the rig and the BP Mocondo well this month. There had been reports of a recurring oil sheen in the area, but the Coast Guard says no sources of leaking oil were found. The Mocondo well was closed and cemented in September of 2010.

Overseas now where Syria is bracing for even more bloodshed after one of its bloodiest days yet in 21 months of civil war. Opposition activists say at least 399 people were killed Saturday and more than half of them apparently were gunned down in a mass execution. Let's go to CNN's Mohammed Jamjoom in neighboring Beirut in Lebanon.

Mohammed, more than 200 of the victims allegedly died in a mass execution?

MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): That's right. That's what activists are telling us, Alison. They're saying that yesterday after regime forces won a battle in the town of Dervalva (ph), which is in Homs province, activists say that then several people there were rounded up and that they were summarily executed by shooting, by stabbing. We've spoken to doctors in that area who said that they looked at bodies after this alleged massacre. We've spoken to other activists who say that at least 200 people were killed as a result of this massacre.

We've seen video on Syrian state TV showing bodies there on the ground. The Syrian government, for its part, is saying that there was a battle in this area. That they went in. That they captured and killed numerous terrorists. We should ad that terrorist is the term that the Syrian government uses to describe rebel opposition fighters.

Particularly gruesome. We're talking about a death toll that was reported yesterday of at least 397 people. That's according to the Local Coordination Committees of Syria, an opposition group. That's the highest one-day death toll that they reported since the conflict began in Syria nearly two years ago. And in that time, we should mention, over 40,000 people have been killed.


KOSIK: It really is incredible. You know, international powers, they are calling for a cease-fire. Yesterday, as we said, the bloodiest day yet. You know, is there any possibility either side will actually lay down their guns?

JAMJOOM: Well, it looks less and less likely as each day goes by. This past week, we've seen a flurry of diplomatic activity. You've had the joint U.N. Arab League envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, going to Syria. Then he went to Russia yesterday. He was meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Russia is one of the key players in what goes on in Syria because they have supported the Syrian regime.

Now it looks as though that support may be lessening in the last few weeks, but still what you heard yesterday was an appeal, an urgent appeal, by these two men for both sides to come together, to come to some sort of political transitional process in Syria. Here's more of what he Syrian (ph) foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, had to say about that point.


SERGEI LAVROV, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): We actively encouraged, as we have been doing, that for all these months, we encourage the Syrian leadership to make as concrete as possible its declared readiness for dialog with the opposition and to underline that they are open to discuss a wide variety of things in the framework of the Geneva agreements reached on June 30th.


JAMJOOM: Alison, there's two big problems with this. The first is that when it comes to this Geneva plan, nobody knows what role Bashar al Assad might play in any kind of transitional government in Syria. And the second is, the opposition has already responded to many of these calls the last few days, saying they're willing to try to form a transitional government but they're not going to negotiate or work with anybody who's currently with the Bashar al Assad regime.


KOSIK: You know, Russia's foreign minister and the U.N. Arab League envoy to Syria, they met in Moscow yesterday. They're warning the conflict, that it's getting more sectarian. What danger does that mean for the Mideast?

JAMJOOM: It poses a huge danger, Alison. Nobody wants to see it get more sectarian. But the sectarian lines in Syria are only deepening. You know, you're seeing -- you're seeing forces like Saudi Arabia and Puthar (ph) in the region supporting the Syrian rebels. And you see Iran supporting the al Assad regime. Syria becomes almost a proxy battlefield for these other regional superpowers and that causes more sectarian tension in Syria.

And then you have the spillover effect. The conflict in Syria. If it widens, it starts engulfing other nations nearby. Even here in Lebanon the last several months, you've seen sectarian tensions really go on the rise because of the factions in Lebanon that support the Syrian government and the factions in Lebanon that support the rebels. So it's a really dire situation. Nobody wants to see sectarian tensions stoked more and yet every day they seem to be getting stoked more in Syria.


KOSIK: OK, Mohammed Jamjoom in Beirut, thank you.

Messages to Congress. CNN i-Reporters sending in their thoughts on the fiscal cliff and the politicians behind the looming crisis. We're going to hear from some of them.

Plus, we're taking a look at the 10 most memorable moments of 2012 from around the world.


KOSIK: Good morning, D.C. It's dark there now, but waky, waky our elected leaders. You've got only two days ahead of you before that fiscal cliff deadline. So hope you're well rested and fed and dugout from the snow storm yesterday because the clock is ticking down on 2012 and to that deadline for avoiding the fiscal cliff. But after weeks of negotiations, patience is running short. Here's President Obama after his meeting with top political leaders on Friday.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The American people are watching what we do here. Obviously, their patience is already thin. This is deja vu all over again. America wonders why it is that in this town for some reason you can't get stuff done in an organized timetable. Why everything always has to wait until the last minute. Well, we're now at the last minute and the American people are not going to have any patience for a politically self-inflicted wound to our economy.


KOSIK: And he apparently wasn't kidding. We put out a call for our CNN i-Reporters to send us their messages to Washington. And, yes, we got a ton of responses. Quite a few of you were frustrate would the lack of action in Washington. This is Missy LaFlair (ph) with her take on the men and women in Congress.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This whole fiscal cliff mess shows how incredibly out of touch you are with the way people really live in this country. You are off in la la land and everyone's saying how you're acting like a bunch of spoiled brats who are more interested in being right than in doing the right thing and actually representing the people who elected you.


KOSIK: And another one comes up Chris Gigax (ph). He sent in a video with his opinion on which side needs to give a bit more in his negotiations. Listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We hear plenty of chatter from pundits that Democrats and Republicans need to come together. Let's get real. President Obama has already given a lot more ground than the Republicans have. So, my advice to Senator Reid and President Obama would be to stop trying to negotiate with Republicans who, like spoiled children, have no interest in compromise. Remember who won the election?

(END VIDEO CLIP) KOSIK: Well said. And, finally, Alberto Willy (ph) sent in this reminder that lawmakers are there to serve everybody and can be voted out if they don't.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My new year's message to Washington is this. There are not enough wealthy people or corporations to keep you in office. In that light, please simply grow up, govern, but most importantly, support middle class policies.


KOSIK: And you still have time to send in your own i-Report. Let us know what you think about the fiscal cliff and the actions in Washington. Record a 20 to 30-second video that start "my new year's message to Washington is," and then add your message. You may see it featured right here on CNN.

A Russian plane overshoots a runway and sends debris flying on to a busy highway as emergency crews rush to get to survivors. It's all caught on tape.


KOSIK: This is incredible video now caught on tape. The terrifying moments when a Russian plane hurdled to the ground and sent debris crashing on to a highway in Moscow. A tire, luggage, even pieces of the airplane smashed on to the road hitting a passing car. Another driver caught everything on his car's dashboard camera. Four people o board the Russian Red Wings Airlines flight were killed when it overshot the runway yesterday. Four others were injured. The crash is under investigation. Wow.

2012 is almost behind us and it's about time to ring in a new year. The last 12 months have been full of some moments we won't forget about anytime soon. CNN's Zain Verjee now takes us on a look back at some of the most important international stories of the year.


ZAIN VERJEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Can you believe it is already the end of the year. Actually, the Mayan calendar said it would be the end of the world. But, oh my goodness, look at this. We're still here and we are heading into 2013.

There were so many headlines this year, so many important stories of 2012, from conflict, hopelessness to inspiration and hope. And we also made sure we had a little bit of fun. Take a look.

VERJEE (voice-over): Number 10.

PIERS MORGAN, CNN: Welcome to London at the world's most famous landmark.

VERJEE: The Queen of England celebrated her diamond jubilee year. It rained on her flotilla parade, but it didn't take the sparkle out of the magical moments. Millions lined the streets, millions more tuned in for this famous wave.

Number nine. September 11th in Benghazi, Libya. U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans killed in a terror attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission there. American officials first suggested it was spontaneous, sparked by a protest over a controversial anti- Muslim film. The White House's handling of the attack became a political hot button.

Number eight. A political transition in North Korea, but no freedom here in the hermit kingdom. King Jung-un took over from his father. The west hoped there would be change, but there wasn't. At year's end, it flexed its military and technological muscle with its first rocket launch, successfully placing a satellite in orbit.

Number seven. Brutality by police and private security was out in the open in South Africa, where the killing of minors was captured on cameras and broadcast everywhere. Miners were protesting, demanding higher wages. The price they had to pay shocked the world.

Number six. Ten more years. The communist party of China selected new leaders. The secretive process produced a new president, Xi Jinping, an L.A. Lakers fan married to a rock star. But China's foreign policies are likely to stay the same, though the new leader's under pressure to deal with corruption and poverty at home.

Number five. Mohammed Morsi, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group, became president of Egypt.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Now celebrate the victory of Mohammed Morsi.

VERJEE: As his predecessor, a dictator ousted by his people, went on trial from his hospital bed. Morsi impressed the west by helping to broker the cease-fire that ended an outbreak of warfare between Hamas and Israel. He then disappointed many by awarding himself sweeping new powers at home, triggering renewed outbursts of anger in Tahrir Square.

Number four. Israel and Hamas poured fuel on the fiery unrest in the region. One side firing rockets. The other launching missile strikes against targets in Gaza. For the first time, Israel felt vulnerable in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. The site of this bus attack in the waning days of the conflict before the big guns of diplomacy helped broker a cease-fire.

Number three. In Europe, Greece was the problem child that spent too much, save nothing and threatened to take down the euro. New leadership didn't stop constant violent protests staged by those facing loss of jobs, pay cuts, higher taxes as their weary government begs for more cash. Europe's leaders, including the new French president, Fancois Hollande, committed to save the euro. It lives on, but for how long?

Number two. ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The deadliest month to date as the Assad regime intensified its use of air power.

VERJEE: One of the questions most asked in 2012 was, how much longer can this man hold on to power? Bashar al Assad was under ever more intense pressure to step down. But his regime stepped up the fire power against the opposition. Civilians caught in the crossfire. More than 40,000 people have died so far.

DAMON: This is, yet, another bread line.

VERJEE: The opposition fights on, making more dramatic gains than ever and gaining pledges of additional support from the international community.

Number one. She fought back from the brink of death after being attacked on a school bus. The Taliban shot Malala Yousafzai in the head because she was an outspoken advocate for the education of girls in Pakistan. But books won over bullets. The 15-year-old miraculously survived. Malala woke up in a British hospital and, according to her father, immediately asked for her school books. The world was gripped, moved and inspired by the story of one determined young girl facing down an entire network of armed militants, and winning.

Zain Verjee, CNN, London.


KOSIK: And be sure to stay with us for more of our year-ending top 10 lists. And if you want something really special, check out for the year in pictures. There's a great gallery there. All the images that define 2012. That's at

It's the last issue of a news icon. "Newsweek" final cover hits the stands tomorrow. We'll have a look at it.


KOSIK: Welcome back and thanks for starting your morning with us. And a special welcome to our troops watching on the American forces Network. I'm Alison Kosik. It's half past the hour.

One of the firefighters killed by a sniper in an ambush in New York will be laid to rest today. Lieutenant Michael Chiapperini, a 20- year veteran of the Webster Police Department, will be buried with honors. A funeral mass for his colleague, Tomasz Kaczowka, is scheduled for tomorrow. The gunman killed himself after shooting the firefighters. His neighbor has been arrested in connection with the case, accused of lying about purchasing the rifle used in the attack.

And some good news this morning about former President George H.W. Bush. We're told he's improving and has been moved out of the intensive care unit of the Houston hospital where he was being treated for an elevated fever. The 41st president has been in the hospital for more than a month now. And say good-bye to thumbing through copies of "Newsweek" at your doctor's office. After 80 years in business, the weekly news magazine will be going digital in the new year, which means you will only be able to download copies of "Newsweek" after the 31st. "Newsweek" editor-in-chief says the growing use of tablets computers by readers combined with continued weakness in print advertising forced the decision.

But now to some new beginnings. New Year's resolutions are a great time to start working out, eating healthier. It's also a great time to think about your pocketbook and getting your finances back on track. And to help us do this, I'm joined this morning by Mitch Reiner.

Good morning.


KOSIK: So, you're an investment adviser and chief operating officer at Capital Investment Advisors and your firm, just to give you some street credit here.


KOSIK:. Your firm handles a billion dollars in assets and you're only 32 years old.

REINER: That's correct.

KOSIK: So we can say that you know what you're doing.

REINER: A little bit, and, you know, with everything going on with the fiscal cliff and everything, you know, there's certain issues that everybody faces and you can only control so much. You can't control what's going on in Washington every day. So, what can we do this year?

KOSIK: Well, here's the thing, because we always do these kind of stories at the beginning of the year.


KOSIK: How to get our finances in order. You know, what - you are going to - you are about to say, if there is anything new and really what, what really can get people? We hear it all the time, all the things we can do. What can you tell people to sort of incentivize them to really get off their, you know, (ph) ...


KOSIK: ... and do something? Yes.

REINER: So, there's nothing new. There's nothing revolutionary with what we do. It's just a matter of coming up with very simple ways of accomplishing those goals that we always try to do on a daily basis. So, you know, the first thing that I would say is really, treat yourself like a cash flow budget. Understand everybody builds themselves a budget for the entire year. How much am I going to spend on my utilities for an entire year. But really, what happens on a monthly basis, how much cash flow do you have that comes into your bank account every month and what are your real expenses every month, because once you can know that difference between those two, you can know how much extra you can actually save whether it's being your 401(K) or your Roth IRA. But really figuring out from a monthly what comes in the door and what goes out the door every single month.

KOSIK: What is a life book? You talk about a life book?

REINER: So, life book - I mean put together, spend some time, put together a book that has all the pertinent information should something happen to you such as bank accounts, log in information, passwords, your insurance proceeds, where your will and your trust information is placed. I mean I had a very good friend and partner who built a life book and it was very easy for his heirs to go through and find everything when something unfortunately happened to him.

KOSIK: How is that different from a will?

REINER: So, it's actually a book that says where everything is located. It's a book that says account numbers. A will just says where I want everything to go if something should happen to me. Really, a life book says, how to get in my house to feed my dogs if I should get into an accident on the way home from work. I mean just putting that information that actually matters when something happens and when everybody else in your family is in crisis.

KOSIK: And where do you put this life book, so people?

REINER: Tell - yeah, you need to tell a few important people exactly where that book is. If something happens to me, go here. Here's where all my information is.

KOSIK: OK, back to trying to fix our finances.


KOSIK: Mortgage, paying our mortgage every month. That's one of our biggest expenses. You know, obviously, we've all heard the advice. You don't want us to try to pay off your mortgage, but how to sort of balance your budget knowing that you have that huge expense every month?

REINER: So, there is - we are in an incredible, we are talking about this year, 2013. And we are an incredible environment to refinance our mortgages and potentially lower how much you pay every single month on that mortgage. This is a great opportunity. Take advantage of it, really go see somebody and figure out how much you can save by refinancing in this historically low interest rate environment.

KOSIK: OK, what about investments, you know, volatility in the stock market, it's happening now because of the fiscal cliff. So, where do we go for investments?

REINER: I see it every day. Everybody, whether you're young and have your money in cash because you're scared of what happened in the market over the last decade or if you are older and you got too much inequities because you're nearing retirement. You just need to spend some time, sit down with somebody who is completely objective, financial advisor, somebody that can just truly give you honest opinions about where your situation is and just make that a plan for this year to get your asset allocation understood and figured out that fits your specific situation.

KOSIK: So, gold used to be all the rage. That rage is sort of settling down a bit, but it's still there. Do you invest in gold?

REINER: Sure. So you need to think about gold, it's a good currency play. It's a good - if the dollar should devalue or because of our debt situation or we get downgraded, it's a good, it's a decent hedge to have in a portfolio assuming that the dollar different - different play.

KOSIK: OK, so but when we talk about investing, going back to stocks. You don't invest -- suggest day trading, do you? Or, you know, how do you really make money in this market when we're playing against, you know, electronic trading where trades are done in a millisecond and who can play against that? A lot of confidence has come out of the market because the big players, the big investors, they've kind of got in control of it.

REINER: Don't try and play the short-term game. I mean there's - there is so many opportunities if you just know where you are in your life stage and you're saving or if you're in the accumulation phase, you're saving on a regular basis, you should be dollar cost averaging every single day, every single month. As you're adding your 401(k), as you are near retirement, let's determine what your specific asset allocation is really based on, what your income needs are going to be. I mean this is something that a lot of people don't pay attention to. When you're in retirement, you need cash flow from your portfolio. If you can build a portfolio that doesn't matter what's happening day-to-day, but you are generating the cash flow and yield out of your portfolio every day, that's what's important. So build an investment plan that does that.

KOSIK: All right. Mitch Reiner, a capital investment advisor. Thanks very much for your time.

REINER: Thank you.

KOSIK: What are your plans for New Year's Eve? We're going to tell you how they will be ringing in 2013 in other parts of the world and some of these traditions, they may surprise you.



CROWD: Four, Three, Two ... (CHEERS)


KOSIK: This traditional New Year's kiss at the stroke of midnight. It's a universal custom that happens around the world, but it's not the only way to ring in the new year. I want to hear more about the world's other interesting and quirky moments to ring in the new year. With me now, Nadia Bilchik. So, Nadia, you know, in other parts of the world, they don't just kiss, do they?

NADIA BILCHIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, (inaudible) in Scotland. And Scottish celebrates something called Hogmannay, which means the new year and what they do, is men dress up as vikings to ...

KOSIK: Why is that?

BILCHIK: To celebrate their viking ancestry ...

KOSIK: Of course.

BILCHIK: ... and they literally light torches and what you see is rivers of torches like you can see over there.

KOSIK: Oh, I love that.

BILCHIK: In Edinburgh, Scotland and hundreds of thousands of people come and celebrate this moment known as Hogmannay.

KOSIK: Now, that's an event.


KOSIK: Another huge party happens in Brazil, doesn't it? Every year we always see Brazil and say, well, they know how to party.

BILCHIK: Alison, wouldn't it be nice to go to the Copacabana Beach.

KOSIK: Especially right now.

BILCHIK: Exactly. Yes. That would be lovely in the beach. Where people, as you can see, dress up in white and the reason for white is that it's a symbol of peace and the idea of purity to have a peaceful, pure year. And there you see somebody throwing flowers and they light candles and pay tribute to the Goddess Lemanja, the goddess of water and the beautiful fireworks and grand celebration in Brazil.

KOSIK: What is it about Brazil that ringing in the new year is just such a fascinating, just an awesome thing to watch?

BILCHIK: And they really get into the moment.


BILCHIK: This is something magnificent about seeing hundreds of thousands of people all dressed in white. Just the spectacle of that.

KOSIK: Right. Right. And so, New Year's in Spain, it also has an interesting tradition. I know it involves grapes only because the grapes are sitting right here. So tell me about this.

BILCHIK: Yes, all people in Spain on the strike of midnight do the following, it's a great Spanish tradition. What they do is, they will start with one grape on the strike of midnight and then for every single minute, until the next - every second until the next minute have another grape. So I thought we should try it ...


BILCHIK: And see how it goes. Now, usually people in Spain don't necessarily eat all the grapes.


BILCHIK: But we can try ...

KOSIK: All right.

BILCHIK: And, again, it's called the old night, Nochevieja, and in the squares of Madrid, Puerta del Sol, they'll have the huge clocks chiming and the people in the square ...

KOSIK: Does everybody ...

BILCHIK: ... altogether will do it ...

KOSIK: Brings their supply of (inaudible) grape.

BILCHIK: Exactly. Do it collectively. So, as we hear the first chime, let's try it.

KOSIK: OK, do we have chimes?

BILCHIK: We have chimes. We are going to try. So we go ...

KOSIK: Oh my God. I'm going to choke if i eat more than one. And worse yet, you can't even kiss. See, you drop them, we choke. How do they kiss? Oh I guess you can't answer because you're eating these grapes. You do this well, I think that you went to Spain at least once for New Year's Eve, the way - I say she did much better than me. I dropped one.


KOSIK: OK, well, I have 11 sitting here.

BILCHIK: So, I wonder if having dropped one is symbolic in any way.

KOSIK: So does that mean you're going to have a better new year than me? If you eat all the grapes and I didn't? BILCHIK: Well, you'll have another chance tomorrow night. So I hope you have another chance in the privacy of home to try it.

KOSIK: Yeah. Yeah. It's a little tough on TV. I felt like I was going to choke.

BILCHIK: Well, I feel obliged to try and get the other grape. But the idea of ...

KOSIK: Go ahead!

BILCHIK: If you have sweet grapes, it is a sweet year. Unfortunately, if the grapes are bitter, then it is a bitter year. And there are various legends around it. One being that there was an abundance of a grape crop during one year. So, the king of Spain gave everybody grapes to eat. Also, it was a great way of promoting grapes. So, either way, usually people peel the grapes.

KOSIK: They slide down easier. I can see you can always eat them whole like a snake.


BILCHIK: Try it. It's definitely worth it. And then in the Philippines the things like sticky rice to make your good luck stick ...

KOSIK: I would love that.

BILCHIK: ... and eating long noodles so you'll have a long life.

KOSIK: I love that.

BILCHIK: And opening all your doors and windows so that the good luck comes in and then jumping high so that you'll grow tall and have a high life. It's a lot of great traditions all around the world.

KOSIK: We should just try all of these traditions at once ...

BILCHIK: Exactly.

KOSIK: hopefully have wonderful, good, health and happiness.

BILCHIK: Exactly. Or we could just have a glass of champagne.

KOSIK: Deal, next year.

BILCHIK: Exactly.

KOSIK: All right, Nadia Bilchik, thanks so much, it's been very interesting, to say the least. And you can spend the final hours of 2012 and the beginning of 2013 with Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin for a real rousing time there. CNN New Year, New's Eve live, from Times Square, that begins Monday night at 10 Eastern, that is always fun to watch, because Kathy Griffin and Anderson Cooper together, you can't beat it. Two parents faced a financial hurdle as they prepared for their infant daughter's surgery. That's when a police officer stepped in to help. Anna Velasquez of our affiliate KOAT is in Albuquerque with the story.


ANNA VELASQUEZ, KOAT CORRESPONDENT: The afternoons have been more than chilly in Albuquerque lately. On Thursday around 4:30 p.m., it was about 35 degrees and someone called the cops when they noticed a couple panhandling at a bus stop with their baby.

OFFICER LUIS HERNANDEZ, ALBUQUERQUE POLICE: The caller was concerned that the baby was out in the cold weather.

VELASQUEZ: The baby, a two and a half-year-old girl bundled in blankets and looking up at officer Louis Hernandez with her big blue eyes.

HERNANDEZ: The first thing I thought when I saw her was from the Simpsons, you know, she looked like a little star all bundled up.

VELASQUEZ: But why panhandle in the cold with a young child? Their story checked out and tugged at officer Hernandez's heart strings.

HERNANDEZ: They were panhandling to get enough money for one of the parents to also follow the rest of the family to the hospital in Denver.

VELASQUEZ: Hernandez tells me the little girl has already had heart surgery and her follow up appointment is in Denver soon. The couple has enough money for the girl and the mother to go, but needed funds for the father to travel. All they needed was a bus ticket. So, officer Hernandez bought one way.

(on camera): What made you do that?

HERNANDEZ: I have a child that was recently diagnosed with epilepsy and I know how hard it can be when you have to deal with medications and additional care and it puts a burden on the family and that's pretty much what there - this part that they were in.


KOSIK: And our thanks to Anna Velasquez of our affiliate KOAT in Albuquerque for that report.

And with the new year comes new laws. From marijuana to marriage and so much more. A look at what's legal and what's not in 2013.


KOSIK: OK, everybody time to get ready for the week ahead, and it's going to be a busy one. Tomorrow, lawmakers are expected to vote on the fiscal cliff. The question is, will they? Because without a deal, about 90 percent of all U.S. Households will have to shell out more in taxes, on average about $3500 more a year. Also, Monday - yeah, it's New Year's Eve. Touch live celebrations from around the world right here on CNN. Our very own Anderson Cooper and comedian Kathy Griffin, they are going to be live in Time Square at an even you definitely won't want to miss. Tuesday, live in it, 2013! The first day of the new year. Wednesday is really the interesting big day to watch, because if we go off the cliff, $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts. They'll take effect if there's one part of the fiscal cliff that nearly everyone agrees on is avoiding going over the cliff. We could see the reaction on Wednesday, especially see the reaction if we do go over the cliff with the markets, with the stock markets.

Now, on Thursday, it's also a busy day because in Washington, the 113th Congress is going to be sworn in. John Boehner is expected to be elected to his second term as House speaker by a vote in the House. So we are just going to have to wait and see If everybody can play nice and solve the country's problems, not just right now with the fiscal cliff, but in the new year when a whole host of other issues come to visit us. So, with the new year just days away, and with the change of the calendar year comes lots of changes in state laws. Here's what we're going to be looking at, here's a look at what will be legal and illegal in the new year.

STACEY COHAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alison, some local laws already made headlines this year. Gay marriage was passed in Maryland and in Maine and the recreational use of marijuana, that was also passed in Colorado and in Washington state. But wait, there's more. Much more. Let's start with the laws that take effect on January First. So, in Illinois and California, employers may no longer force their employees to provide the passwords to their social media accounts. And the same is true if you are applying for a job in either one of those states. And speaking of job seekers, let's check out Oregon. Employers are not allowed to advertise a job listing in that state unless they are willing to hire the unemployed.

And in Maryland, arsenic is banned in chicken feed. Why? Well, it's under protecting the waters of the Chesapeake Bay from any toxins. And in California, this one made headlines, too. That state is now banning the treatment aimed at changing the sexual orientation of anyone under the age of 18. And on the lighter side, if you are a fan of sharks, you are going to like this one: there's a new law in Illinois helping protect the species. The possession, sale or trade of shark fins is now illegal in Illinois. And in Florida, if you own a swamp buggy, you don't have to register it as a motor vehicle. It's no longer classified as such in the state of Florida. And in Kentucky, here's one: it is illegal to release a wild hog into the wild. Yes, that is what the new law says. We are told, in 2013 some folks also may see a little bump in their paychecks. Great news. In ten states they decided to raise the minimum wage. Alison, back to you.

KOSIK: And our thanks to Stacey Cohan. Let me ask you this, do you watch ABC's hit show "Modern Family"? Ever wondered where those crazy and hilarious story lines come from? Well, one of the shows Emmy Award winning writers and producers is going to be sharing his secrets with us in the next hour. It's a CNN exclusive. (MUSIC)

KOSIK: Have to go (ph). That's some shot. That's spooky.


KOSIK: New York City's first ever casino is cashing in. It's celebrating a very big first year. There are plenty of slot machines and even some lucky winners to be found, but as Richard Roth found out, there is one little thing missing.




ROTH (voice over): I took that as a yes. It is really the operators of New York City's first ever casino who should be screaming.



ROTH: One year after its grand opening, the joint is jumping. Resorts World casino is the biggest winner in its own house.

CHRISTIAN GOODE, CFO GENTING AMERICAS: This is very good. We've been pleasantly surprised with the warm up we got from our community, but more surprised by the gaming revenue.

ROTH: So popular ...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 20 bucks on ...

ROTH: Resorts World located near JFK Airport has taken in more slot machine revenue than any other casino in America.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Pennies, nickels, any slot there is to play.

ROTH: Oh, they play here. $700 million in revenue in 14 months.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I didn't win anything.

ROTH: The casino is owned by the Genting group out of Malaysia, the largest gambling operator in England and Southeast Asia, it's now the king of Queens. Here's why.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I go to this casino in Queens because it's close to home.

ROTH: This is a free shuttle picking up casino goers at nearby transit hubs. The bus represents a gambling migration. New yorkers are not trekking a few hours out of town to Atlantic City and Connecticut casinos.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is more easy. This time I play and I'm back home.

ROTH (on camera): Did you used to go to Atlantic City? And if so, why did you come here now?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: First of all, it's much more convenient and I don't have the tolls, and I don't have all that driving.

ROTH (voice over): Resorts World will take New York, but, still wants, well, the world.

GOODE: We want to attract people here from other places. We want New Yorkers to stay home if they want entertainment, but we want to build a resort and an experience that's global.


ROTH: Resorts World doesn't have it all yet when it comes to table games. Machines, not humans spin the roulette wheel and roll the dice. Voters may get a chance to change those gambling rules in the future. You can still find human beings and some winners.


ROTH (on camera): Because my bag was near you. That's my bag there. That brought to you good luck. That's all right. Please. Richard Roth, CNN, New York.


KOSIK: She's excited. And I want to show you something. Pedro and Buddy, the so-called gay penguins at the Toronto Zoo. Well, guess what, they're dads now. They have been life partners. The zoo staff separated them so they could mate with females and just in time for the new year, they're proud fathers of some baby penguins.

And a real shot in the arm, that's what former president George H.W. Bush, who's been in the Houston hospital for over a month, that's what he called a special serenade that he got by the country group "The Oak Ridge Boys."


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Amazing grace how sweet the sound ...


KOSIK: And the band gave the performance via phone after being contacted by former first lady Barbara Bush. They first met 30 years ago, but that was when Bush was president, actually vice president. But Bush was moved out of the intensive care unit yesterday. So, he's improving.

A pizza delivery man kidnapped and robbed at gunpoint by his customers. Police say when the 51-year-old arrived at the home to deliver the pie, the suspects restrained him with duct tape and put him in the trunk of his car. They drove about 20 miles and dropped him off. Sure, the three suspects are in custody. The victim's car is still missing, but he's still delivering pizzas in a borrowed car.

An animal rights group has paid out a $9 million settlement to the owners of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was just one of several animal rights group that sued Feld Entertainment back in 2000, alleging that circus elephants were abused. But after more than a decade of litigation and tainted testimony from a former circus employee the ASPCA decided to settle. In a statement, however, they do not admit to "any liability or wrongdoing."

All right, we have to show you one of the sweetest videos that we saw this weekend. Look at this, he can't talk yet, but he's already turning heads on the slopes in Quebec. Meet 18-month-old Nevek Rencouer (ph). He's blazing the trail on his snowboard except right there. He's bringing his pacifier along for the ride. He spit that pacifier when he falls. And it's not just him. His three-year-old sister Abigail is also on the hill. Both are following in the footsteps of their dad who is a big fan of the sport. I give him much kudos, I can't imagine even going on there. But he's kind of like lifeless on there. It's just kind of chilling. That's amazing. I can stare at that most of the day.

Thanks for starting your morning with us. We've got much more ahead on CNN "Sunday Morning" which starts right now.


KOSIK: And good morning. I'm Alison Kosik. Randi is off today. It's 7:00 on the East Coast, 4:00 on the West. Thanks for starting your morning with us.

And we begin this hour which may be the worst day of bloodshed Syria has suffered in almost two years of war, almost 200 people were killed across the country yesterday alone. And Syria is bracing for more violence today. International efforts to restore peace are continuing, but are they having any success?

Let's go to CNN's Mohammed Jamjoom in Beirut, Lebanon.

Mohammed, Syrian opposition activists say yesterday that it was the deadliest day since March of last year. And there are these claims coming out of a mass execution? Tell me more about it.

MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Alison. Opposition activists are reporting that at least 397 people killed yesterday. That's a staggering number, even by the standards in Syria where these days routinely we're hearing that well over 100 people a day have been killed as a result of the fighting there.

Now, what we're hearing, the reports that are emerging are that in the town of Deir Balbah, which is in Homs province, that at least 200 people were killed after regime forces retook a city from the rebel Free Syrian Army forces. Now, one activist told us that they got some of their information from a captured Syrian soldier who told them that many people had been rounded up. That they had been taking to a petro chemical plant there and they have been summarily executed.

We're still trying to get more details about this. The Syrian government for their part has said they went in to Deir Balbah and that they captured and killed a lot of terrorists. "Terrorists" is the term they use when they're referring to opposition fighters. But this is just what sounds like a really horrific crime that happened yesterday in Deir Balbah. And as I said, we're waiting for more details to emerge in the hours to come -- Alison.

KOSIK: So, then, it seems the rebels are gaining ground, or is it a situation where we're seeing an intense crackdown by Syrian forces?

JAMJOOM: Essentially, it's a war of attrition. It has been for quite a while. Yes, the rebels have been gaining ground. That's according to most analysts. That's according to the opposition figures and the rebel Free Syrian Army members we speak with on the ground. They have been able to capture a lot more territory in the north of the country, and even in and around the capital.

But the fact of the matter is the regime is cracking down. They continue to crack down and the regime still has the air power. And so, it's very hard for the dynamic to shift dramatically while the regime still has the warplanes.

And what we hear again and again is that when rebels capture a city or liberate a city, and then the airplanes come in and warplanes come in, start shelling and drive them out of those areas once more -- Alison.

KOSIK: Now, we know the international envoy for Syria, he was in Russia yesterday. Today, he's in Egypt. What specifically, though, is he trying to accomplish?

JAMJOOM: Well, he's in Egypt today to report back to the Arab League and to the secretary-general of the Arab League, Nabil Elaraby, his findings from his diplomatic trips these past few days. He was in Syria meeting with Bashar al-Assad and other figures and then Lakhdar Brahimi went to Moscow where he met with the foreign minister there.

The foreign minister of Russia as well as Lakhdar Brahimi urged all the parties in conflict in Syria to come to the table, to try to set up some sort of transitional government. But the fighting still rages on in Syria.

Now, today, we heard just in the last hour from Lakhdar Brahimi, he actually said in Cairo that the situation is so bad in Syria that now we have close to 50,000 people killed there in the nearly two years of war. He said that by next year, it could be up to 100,000.

He says that, yes, there is a window of opportunity for parties to come together to affect some sort of peaceful settlement, but it's not going to last forever and the situation there is getting more and more dire every single day -- Alison.

KOSIK: But with it getting more dire, I mean, is there really any likelihood of a cease-fire or will Syria's president step down?

JAMJOOM: It doesn't look as though Syria's president is ready to step down. One of the key questions about this flurry of diplomatic activity in the past few days is even if some sort of transitional government is agreed upon, what role would Bashar al-Assad have. The al-Assad regime hasn't made any kind of noise that they're ready step aside.

And the opposition in Syria has said that while they would try to work to make a transitional government possible, they're not going to work with anybody in the regime and they demand that Bashar al-Assad step aside, that he not be part of any government there right now. So, that complicates the effort.

And the fact of the matter, as much diplomatic activity there has been the last several months, even when Lakhdar Brahimi has gone to Syria to Syria, even when his predecessor as envoy to Syria Kofi Annan went to Syria to effect some sort of cease-fire. Even when cease-fire has been announced, they have never taken hold, the fighting continues unabated, even with all the activity, all the international pressure the last few days look at the staggering death toll just in the past week, and you can see that it is really not making an impact on the ground there in Syria -- Alison.

KOSIK: OK. Mohammed Jamjoom, thanks so much.

And back here at home, the big focus is on the fiscal cliff. Washington has less than 48 hours to make a deal before billions in tax increases and spending cuts take effect. Senate negotiators stayed late into the night trying to work out a plan that would pass a vote. Both houses of Congress would convene later this afternoon in a rare Sunday session.

In his weekly address, the president took his message directly to the public, calling for Congress to come together to pass a deal.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For the past couple months, I have been working with people in both parties with the help of business leaders and ordinary Americans, to come together around a plan to grow the economy and shrink our deficits. It's a balance plan. One that would protect the middle class, cut spending in a responsible way, and ask the wealthiest Americans to pay a little more.

And I'll keep working with anybody who's serious about getting a comprehensive plan like this done, because it's the right thing to do for our economic growth.

But we're now at the point where in just a couple of days, the law says that every American's tax rates are going up. Every American's paycheck will get a lot smaller. And that would be the wrong thing to do for our economy. It would hurt middle class families and it would hurt the businesses that depend on your spending and Congress can prevent it from happening, if they act now.

Leaders in Congress are working on a way to prevent this tax hike on the middle class and I believe we may be able to reach an agreement that could pass both houses in time.


KOSIK: And the president will have another chance to deliver that message, again, this morning. He's going to be appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press." It's his first Sunday talk show appearance in more than three years. Mr. Obama is expected to call for an immediate vote by Congress on a scale back plan that would only extend middle class tax breaks and unemployment benefits if the congressional negotiations fail.

Republican Senator Mitch McConnell is hoping there will be a plan to present today.

Some sad news from Hollywood -- Harry Carey Jr. has died. The character actor best known for his work in Westerns appeared in almost 100 films including 10 with John Wayne. But Carey's career wasn't limited to the silver screen. He also served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. Harry Carey Jr. was 91.

And caught on tape, the terrifying moments when a Russian plane hurdled past a runway and sent debris crashing on to a highway in Moscow. A tire, luggage and pieces of the airplane smashed unto the road, hitting a stopping car yesterday. Another driver capturing the scene on his car's dashboard camera.

Four people onboard the Russian Red Wings airlines flight were killed, four others were injured. The cause of the crash is under investigation.

And it's not just the fiscal cliff that could impact your wallet. We're going to tell you why something called the "dairy cliff" could make your grocery bill soar if Congress doesn't do something soon.


KOSIK: The deadline to make a deal and avoid the fiscal cliff less than 48 hours away now. The Senate and the House convening this afternoon for a rare Sunday session with the hopes of reaching a vote possibly tonight. But can they really get a deal done?

Yesterday, I spoke with Sheila Bair. She's the former chairman of the FDIC and she's been through some tough negotiations before. She was there for the bank bailout packages of 2008.

This is what she had to say about the chances of a deal and what might be included.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SHEILA BAIR, FORMER FDIC CHAIRWOMAN: This should have been resolved long ago, and I do think, actually, they are going to get a deal, but I think it will be more along the lines of kicking the can down the road.

I don't think, at least from this point what I'm hearing, that we'll get meaningful deficit reduction, certainly not meaningful tax reform. I do think, though, that there will be perhaps a permanent extension of the lower tax rates for those making at least under $500,000.

The payroll tax cut, on the other hand, will go away, I think, is highly likely, and that is going to impact a lot of workers.

So I think they will be making some decisions this weekend. And I there's a good chance it will pass and become law. But I don't -- so that's the good news. And the bad news is I don't think it will have meaningful deficit reduction. And I think this is just going to keep dragging on and on.

KOSIK: In your book, you advocate for raising the capital gains tax, which could make Wall Street owe a lot more money than it does now.

BAIR: Yes.

KOSIK: Investors would owe more.

So that's being discussed as part of a fiscal cliff deal.

But many believe that would actually wind up hurting the economy, giving a disincentive to invest money. Or is this --


KOSIK: -- that just focus on the real wealthy?

BAIR: Yes, I hear that argument a lot. And I guess number one is I'm really tired of our tax policy decisions, you know, everything, being made by what the market's going to do in the next quarter.

Look, this is an aberration in the tax code. It is grossly unfair.

I mean, you look at -- if they raise -- say they raise tax rates, the top tax rate to 39.6 percent for those making more than $500,000. That's going to mean that small businesses, a lot of small businesses are going to paying that nearly 40 percent marginal tax rate, where you have billionaire private equity funds, you know, paying 15 percent, 20 percent , or even 24 percent, depending on where they put it.

It's not an issue of penalizing investment income. It's an issue of penalizing labor, and those who make their income through wages. And they're both legitimate and they both should be taxed at the same rate. So, I do -- again, fundamental tax reform could solve this problem, but at least raising the capital gains rate would help address this anomaly.

And Susan Collins and Claire McCaskill have a proposal to try to give the small business owners, legitimate small business owners, some relief from those higher rates, because it's completely upside down that you'd have billionaire private equity fund managers, you know, paying 15 percent, 20 percent and small businesses who do create jobs paying 39.6 percent.

So I do think this is a source of unfairness; it's inefficient and it should be -- we should be taxing all income at the same rate.

KOSIK: You know, a fiscal cliff compromise likely won't happen without, you know, those special interests having their say and having their sway with these negotiations.

BAIR: Right.

KOSIK: I mean, how much do these lobbying groups really wind up kind of turning the negotiations in a certain way to really make things sort of end up where we just started? Sort of going over --


BAIR: Well, they do. I think -- again, capital gains is a good -- Wall Street is heavily involved in trying to keep these rates as low as possible. And so I think the lower capital gains rate is a good example.

I think the lobbying pressure is significant, but also just the polarization, the political polarization we've seen in our country.


KOSIK: Want to watch the whole interview? You can see it online at

And Americans fearful of higher taxes as part of the January 1st fiscal cliff deadline may see another hit to their wallets, thanks to what's being called the "dairy cliff". Milk prices could double to a whopping $8 a gallon if Congress doesn't pass an extension to the U.S. farm bill. And everything from your favorite treats at the grocery store to the nation's dairy farmers can be affected.

Chris Conte with affiliate WTVF in Nashville spoke to one farmer about this.


BOB STRASSER, FARMER: I'm 54 years old and I'm one of the youngest dairy farmers in the state.

CHRIS CONTE, WTVF REPORTER (voice-over): To understand what allowing the farm bill to expire would mean. STRASSER: Everything has to be washed, sterilized.

CONTE: To understand that --

STRASSER: Let's go. Get up, come on.

CONTE: -- you must first understand this.

STRASSER: I was born into it and grew up doing it.

CONTE: Bob Strasser's grandfather once owned Cumberland Meadows Dairy, and his father. Now, him.

STRASSER: We are farmers and we enjoy it, and this is our family farm.

CONTE: Bob is out here at 4:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. each day.


STRASSER: They like the radio. That's why it's on.


CONTE: He works harder in a 12-hour span than most of us work in a lifetime. So, you can imagine why he thinks it's utterly ridiculous that Congress can't work together to help him out.

STRASSER: I don't have a lot of confidence in Congress.

CONTE: On January 1st, the farm bill will expire. The price Bob gets paid for his milk will double, back to 1949 standards.

STRASSER: This bill affects everybody.

CONTE: Good news for him, but that means a gallon of milk at the grocery store will cost around $8.

(on camera): Would you pay $8 for a gallon of milk?

STRASSER: No, no. I'd drink juice. And I'm loyal to milk.

CONTE: But it's not just milk that is going to be affected by all of this. If there isn't an extension in the farm bill, a block of brie imported from France will end up being half as much as a block of cheddar cheese from Vermont.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wouldn't pay it.

CONTE (voice-over): That's exactly what Bob and hundreds of other farmers are worried about.

STRASSER: We're the end of the line.

(END VIDEOTAPE) KOSIK: And not to be left out, there is also a wind turbine cliff, a tax credit for wind powered production that is also set to expire. One energy security group says it does not expect the one- year credit extension which has been criticized as too costly to be part of any fiscal cliff deal.

So many cliffs, so little time.

Do you watch ABC's hit show "Modern Family"? It's become a bit of a phenomenon. We sat down with one of the Emmy winning producers and how they create nose crazy and hilarious story lines.




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All I have to do is get 50 signatures, show up, make my case and it's on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am so proud of you.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We love when mom gets on the project, because usually the minute any of us walks in the door, she gives us all something to do.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do your homework. Clean your room.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Like the queen is coming over, am I right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm so glad because I could really use your help getting these signatures.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'll do it as soon as I change those light bulbs you wanted.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've got a ton of homework.


KOSIK: "Modern Family", ever se it? The sitcom is a huge hit on ABC, packed with 21st century dynamics that are becoming the new normal for -- well, the modern family.

Our very own Nadia Bilchik sat down with Danny Zuker, one of its writers and executive producers, for a real insider's tour of the show. It's a CNN exclusive and today's "Arts & Leisure". (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DANNY ZUKER, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, "MODERN FAMILY": It's hard to know what makes "Modern Family" such a phenomenon, but I think it's very relatable to like a wide swath of the audience, from my children's -- their friends watch the show and their parents watch the show and someone described it as a friend of mine described it of kind of like a camp fire. There hadn't been anything like that on the air for a while that everybody sort of watched together. And I think it was an antidote to snarky television for a while.

NADIA BILCHIK, CNN EDITORIAL PRODUCER: Now, how do you find inspiration to some of the jokes in "Modern Family"?

ZUKER: Well, the stories come right from my family. Something will happen in my family and my kids will watch me go from my phone to write notes, and they'd be like, don't put that on the show. And all of the writers on the show have this with out family, because we purge -- I mean, we have just told, we have dug from the depths of our family, all of our -- all the skeletons in our closet because, you know, we need stories and that comes first.

We did an episode, this actually happened to me. The EMTs in my town of Manhattan Beach are famously attractive and I was doubled over in the middle of the night with gallstones and my wife called 911 because we didn't know what it was. She disappeared for a while and the doorbell rang and I'm in my underwear she comes out of the closet and she is completely dolled herself up for the firemen.

And so, I told that story and we wound up doing that in an episode. So --

BILCHIK: Now, Eric Stonestreet played the partner to Mitch, he's gay. And, yet, in real life, he isn't. Are people surprised by that?

ZUKER: I think they are. Eric is definitely the person on the show most playing a character, I think. I mean, they all are, but his transformation is -- I mean, we watch him get cam hair. His hair becomes that cam hair and you'll see him afterwards and he looks like a good old boy, which is basically what he is. Yes.

BILCHIK: Sofia Vergara, nobody had really heard of her before "Modern Family".

ZUKER: Sofia Vergara was fairly big in Latin America. So, the people -- early on when we would go out to restaurants or something, anywhere, some of the -- and we would be in any place there were Latino people, they would come up to her like they had known her. Yes, this was a breakout role.

BILCHIK: "Modern Family" really resonates beyond entertainment. In fact, it's been credited with changing people's perception, for example, of gay marriage.

Does that put pressure on you as a writer? Is that something you think about a lot? ZUKER: We do take pride after the fact in it changing opinions. Our more conservative relatives and family members have come up to us and said, you know, I never really looked at gay people in that way.

BILCHIK: You have, I think it is like over 150,000 Twitter followers. You have to explain your love of Twitter.

ZUKER: I love writing jokes. I just -- I saw this, I saw this forum as just this perfect place of writing jokes. When I was -- I came up as a joke writer and, originally, if you wanted to get your jokes heard, you'd have to go to this gatekeeper. So, I would be like the head writer of Letterman or of Leno. But now, a joke occurs to you and you just put it out there and you get feedback.

And I know lots of young comedy writers who have gotten hired strictly off of their Twitter feeds.

BILCHIK: Well, @DannyZuker --


BILCHIK: -- it has been a pleasure having you on @CNN.

ZUKER: Oh, it's my pleasure. Thank you so much.


KOSIK: And Nadia Bilchik joins me now.

So, listen, it's clear that "Modern Family" is just a huge hit. It's really resonated. I guess Danny has worked on more shows than just this one, though, right?

BILCHIK: He certainly has. "Just Shoot Me", the "Roseanne" show, and I was curious about getting inside the head of a comedy writer. One thing he really does is this great tribute to the creators of "Modern Family", Steve Levitan and Christopher Lloyd. And he speaks about their genius in creating the show because he came on afterwards.

But worked on many things, has an extraordinary mind and an extraordinary wit, and I have to talk to you about his love of Twitter.

KOSIK: Yes. Exactly, he mentioned he tweets a lot. I love to tweet. I'm very active on Twitter.

Should I follow him?

BILCHIK: You have to follow @DannyZuker.

The thing he said that I like about his son, and I'm going to read you the one that is PG-13, not the adult (INAUDIBLE). But he says, "My son has the report card of a much better athlete." Don't you like that one? KOSIK: It would be funny to see what goes on in his life, you know? And that's what really makes this show great is because, don't we love laughing at ourselves and just the average, the everyday stuff that we do. That's where the collaboration comes in, doesn't it? I mean, you get everybody's real-life events in their life and you bring it to life and it's so funny to laugh ourselves.

BILCHIK: And, you know, one of things he said, Cam, Eric Stonestreet, was a clown at some point in his life. He used that. He gave a talk at Syracuse University this last year and he spoke about being a comedy writer and he said one of the most important things, you might find this surprising -- he says -- is be a nice person and Danny Zuker is very nice and very talented man.

KOSIK: Did he talk at all about how he sees the show moving forward or he's kind of mum about that?

BILCHIK: I think they're mum about that and the creators, as I say, you know, Steven Levithan and Christopher Lloyd, have a lot to say about what's going to happen that we look and anticipate --

KOSIK: We will continue watching. Thanks, Nadia Bilchik.

Coming up next hour, a football enthusiast from Norway becomes a YouTube star and now the NFL is taking notice.

But, first, let's check in with Dr. Sanjay Gupta for a look at what's ahead on the bottom of the hour on "SANJAY GUPTA, M.D."

Good morning, Sanjay.



The leading cause of accidental deaths in this country isn't car accidents. Instead, it's perfectly legal prescription pain killers which now kill more people than cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines combine. We're going to take a look at how disturbing easily it is to take a deadly dose and how warning labels don't paint a true picture.

We've got have that ahead at 7:30 a.m. Eastern.



KOSIK: Here's one last look at some top stories.

In Washington, it's down to the wire for the fiscal cliff. Less than 48 hours for Washington to make a deal, both houses of Congress are meeting today in rare Sunday sessions. The Senate is convening at 1:00, the House an hour later at 2:00. The earliest we could see a vote is 6:30 p.m. Eastern Time. You can catch that live coverage of it right here on CNN. To Massachusetts now where a snowstorm is pounding the state. Boston could see up to eight inches of snow today. The city's mayor has already declared a snow emergency. A top priority there is getting the roads ready and cleared for public safety. Freezing temperatures are in the forecast for this week.

And some good news this morning about former President George H.W. Bush. We're told he's improving and has been moved out of the intensive care unit of the Houston hospital where he was being treated for an elevated fever. The 41st president has been in the hospital for more than a month now.

The U.N. Arab League envoy for Syria says the situation in the war torn country is getting worse by the day. And this weekend may be proving him right. Opposition activists say at least 397 people were killed across Syria yesterday alone. If true, it would be the deadliest day yet in almost two years of civil war. The opposition says more than 200 of those killed were captured and executed by Syrian government forces following a battle.

More news at the top of the hour when CNN SUNDAY MORNING continues.

But, first, "SANJAY GUPTA, M.D." starts now.